Kyungah Ham participates in the Encounters sector of the 2016 edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong, presenting sixteen artists and their works from March 24th to 26th. Curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor, Executive Director of Artspace, Sydney, the artworks are installed adjacent to the traditional art fair, presenting exciting new works from around the world, with an emphasis on large-scale sculptures and installation works. Exploring the nature of “an encounter” the curator hopes to inspire the audience at Art Basel in Hong Kong to interact and be immersed in a visual arts environment.
Kyungah Ham works across installation, video, performance and traditional media. The legacy of war is a recurring motif in Ham’s work, in particular the division of the Korean peninsula following World War II, and the related government propaganda that has characterized the conflict since the Korean War. Ham’s Embroidery Project series often conceals political messages, which may initially be eclipsed by her use of colorful and vibrant materials. Through the use of satire and uncanny juxtapositions of personal imagery, the artist reclaims forgotten or ignored histories, confronting her viewers with these marginalized voices and opening long ignored facets of Korean history. Her work reflects both historical and contemporary episodes of conflict, and constructs an unsettling and compelling mixture of ideology, social activism, and personal memory.
Despite her critical methodology, Ham’s work avoids being bombastic, and her topical use of imagery deftly challenges societal stereotypes. The Embroidery Project series is the result of handwork by anonymous North Korean women, and Ham’s process of hiring these workers illustrates the relationship between these women, the tension between North and South Korea, and their history of conflict. Beset by countless trials and errors, this complex cross-border process creates an abstraction of the artist’s intent, capturing the inverted reality of North Korea.
For Encounters, Kyungah Ham will present her recent work Chandeliers for Five Cities (2014-2015), a series that has been in production since 2008. The large embroidered tapestries with grandiose and decorative chandeliers powerfully illustrate bureaucratic power, referencing the Korean War, one of the most seminal events in Korean history. Hanging perilously askew, the image evokes the interior of a grand hall and by extension the legacy of political powers at the center of world history, further implying the imperfection or collapse of colonial ideologies. Despite its falling, the chandelier suggests the persistent ideological conflict and divisions that exist – as if alluding to the influence still cast by history. Although the chandelier is the only image apparent in the series, the artist’s intent is to evoke the people who are living within this divided history. In this way each minute stich remains as a testament to an individual laborer.
Since its inauguration in 2013, Art Basel in Hong Kong has established itself as the most important fair in the region, presenting both international and Asian artists to a global audience. Kukje Gallery has been a participant at Art Basel Hong Kong since its inception in 2008, presenting Haegue Yang in the 2013 Encounters, and Yeesookyung in the 2014 Encounters.
Kyungah Ham was born in Seoul in 1966. She graduated from Seoul National University with a painting major, and received her master’s degree from the School of Visual Art in New York. Her work has been exhibited in solo shows including Room with a View, Gallery Loop, Seoul (1999); Such Game, Ssamzie Space, Seoul (2008); Desire and Anesthesia, Art Sonje Center, Seoul (2009); and Phantom Footsteps, Kukje Gallery (2015).
Ham has participated in many group shows at venues including the British Museum, London (2005); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2010); Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna (2010); National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (traveled to Kunstmuseum Bonn, 2013); and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (2014). She also participated in the 9th Guangdong Triennial (2012); the 7th Liverpool Biennial (2012); and the 5th Guangzhou Triennial (2015). Her works are in the collections of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Korea; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Uli Sigg Collection, Switzerland. The artist is selected to participate in Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea’s 2016 Artist of the Year exhibition, for the 2016 Korea Artist Prize. The exhibition opens August 31, 2016.